AskMe Rules, OK
October 23, 2005 1:31 PM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the cliché "X rule(s) ok"?

I found this post by Paul Werth on Linguist List:

In reply to Rick Russom's query about 'X rules OK', to get the syntax, you should punctuate it thusly: 'X rules, OK?' Inother words, it's a belligerent affirmation by (always, in my experience) a young, male group: examples include 'Bovver boys rule, OK?' (one of the earliest, this), 'Brixton boot boys rule, OK?', 'Skinheads rule, OK?', including also various sporting groups, e.g. 'Manchester City rule, OK?' (but interestingly, never 'Henley Punting & Sculling Club rule, OK?' or 'Cheltenham Bridge Association rules, OK?'). Of course, the device has spawned many variants. My personal favourites are: 'Maggie rules UK?' (note the missing comma - highly significant) and 'Dyslexia lures, KO?'.

I'm curious to know more. Is there a definite source of origin for "X rule(s), OK"?
posted by Kattullus to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
I didn't know the answer to this question offhand, but it piqued my curiousity. I found this thread, which has some believable speculation about the origins of "rule, OK?":
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:31 PM on October 23, 2005

To save everyone else the trouble of working through the various posts at the URL the previous commenter gave, here's the only nugget of actual information:

the OED don't have any citations of printed uses of this prior to 1975 but include a reference to an acticle claiming it originated amongst the Glasgow "razor gangs" of the thirties.

I find Werth's discussion extremely disingenuous in that he seems to be pretending that the phrase is actually punctuated with a comma and question mark, which I've never seen—it's always "X rules OK." At first I thought he was just saying it helps to think of it that way, but then he quotes the famous "Maggie rules UK" (with a question mark that he inserted himself" and adds "(note the missing comma - highly significant)"—what "missing comma"? You put in the others yourself!

Anyway, I'll be curious to see if anybody can provide further information about those Glasgow gangs.
posted by languagehat at 2:51 PM on October 23, 2005

Well, aren't you just an absolute caution! Anyway.

This page has some more elaboration on possible early gang origins of the phrase (still pretty speculative) around paragraphs 6-7:,+I+love+it%22&hl=en

(cached because the original page gives a 404, unfortunately).

An excerpt from the page, which appears to be a reprint of an article from The Independent, written by Thomas Sutcliffe in 1994:

"OK is still going strong (including variant spellings, it appeared on our database 5,497 times in the past 12 months, pretty good going for a piece of slang) but it has lost the aggression it displayed during the early Seventies, when it was famously used as an intimidating interrogation at the end of bits of graffiti ('Arsenal Rule OK'). The broadcaster and writer on language, Nigel Rees, dates this particular usage back to IRA graffitists of the Sixties, though one correspondent to the Times claimed that it derived from Scottish razor gangs of the Thirties.

The latter sounds more convincing to me - there is a nasty edge of coercion in it - 'Agree with me? Fine, I won't cut you' - and the timing seems more likely, too. Although the phrase appeared in British usage in the last century it was given much wider currency by the arrival of talkies - The Jazz Singer was made in 1927 and Public Enemy, Cagney's big hit, in 1931. It's easy to imagine Glasgow thugs modelling their speech on those early gangster movies."
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:32 PM on October 23, 2005

languagehat's right; the idea of a question mark in the "X rule(s) ok" construction is just silly. And the comma is almost never included when you see it on the street. It reads much more intense that way.

Wouldn't surprise me to see it rooted in 1930s slang, though.
posted by mediareport at 5:51 PM on October 23, 2005

I always heard it as a synonym of "alright" in context rather than as an interrogation:

Man U Rules OK = Man U Rules! Alright!

but of course that exaculation is specifically yank, so maybe not.
posted by mwhybark at 6:23 PM on October 23, 2005

The first place I ever heard this, and it was a long time ago, was in reference to the 70s-80s San Francisco 4-piece Flipper - specifically the band slogan (which got graffito'd a lot in San Francisco, as I understand) was "Flipper Rules, OK?" I seem to recall seeing the variant "Don't be Stupid, Flipper Rules OK?" but I don't remember where and I can't find anything to back it up. I think this is the origin of at least the popularization of the phrase.
posted by nanojath at 10:15 PM on October 23, 2005

I think this is the origin of at least the popularization of the phrase.

I'd bet UK pop/punk culture had a lot more to do with popularizing it than Flipper, even in the US.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on October 24, 2005

Yeah, this is definitely a UK thing. Flipper may have popularized it among their Bay Area fans, but that's a pretty small segment of the population (no offense to Flipper fans).
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on October 24, 2005

Slightly relevant: current Glasgow gangs, or rather their Young Teams - kid gangs, most of which aren't really affiliated with any organised crime nowadays, but like sounding hard by adopting a '[some place/some name] Young Team handle - still use this a lot, often writing graffito with the gang's initials followed by an OK. (You also get Baby Teams and Lady Teams.)

These kids also maintain absolutely amazing websites, with equally amazing names: Young Duntoker Fleeto, Young Springburn Peg, Young Remo, etc. etc. (embedded sound likely, pictures possibly NSFW, if children smoking weed and drinking Buckfast tonic wine are NSFW).

There are sites for your actual 'We used to slice people's faces off for driving an ice cream van full of drugs on our patch' types, where the linguistic invention is no less strong, eg. Real Calton Tongs (the 'tong' part probably comes from a film, Terror Of The Tongs shown in Glasgow in the early 60s), which has information on the earlier San Toi gang, and anecdotes about gang members with nicknames like Moncur St. Modell or Sonny Moms, The Lamp-lighter.

Er, sorry, not exactly on topic, but maybe the general love of coining or adopting names and phrases amongst Glaswegian gangs lends credence to the theory that they came up with the '...Rules OK' thing?
posted by jack_mo at 7:51 AM on October 24, 2005

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